Air Force Skyborg Award Foresees “Attritable” Unmanned Combat Planes

The U.S. Air Force Skyborg program, creating a low-cost autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle that will partner with manned aircraft to increase air combat power, awarded a contract to BAE Systems to develop a digital design for the UAV. Teamed with a manned aircraft, the UAVs will leverage autonomy to disrupt and defeat adversaries in contested environments.


Artists’ rendering courtesy BAE Systems.

Termed “attritable,” the craft reflects a shift in the future make-up of U.S. air squadrons to designs emphasizing lower-cost unmanned craft that can be reused several times with minimal maintenance, and eventually be expendable. The term is an apparent reference to “attrition,” wearing down the enemy by sustained attacks to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and material.

“The need to generate combat power faster than our adversaries is critical to address near-peer threats,” said Ehtisham Siddiqui, vice president and general manager of Controls and Avionics Solutions at BAE Systems. “This award will accelerate the development and deployment of manned-unmanned teaming technologies to give the U.S. Air Force a decisive edge in the battlespace.”

The UAVs will be designed with BAE Systems’ autonomous systems, which include sensors and payloads that communicate across a shared network with manned aircraft. This modular and common system approach provides the foundation for rapid updates and integration to ensure the fleet is fielding the latest capabilities to defend against emerging threats.

The shared network enables manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T), which allows UAVs and manned aircraft to work together and complete missions more effectively. The network extends the reach of the fleet, while keeping the manned aircraft and personnel out of harm’s way. It will allow the UAVs to serve as the eyes and ears for pilots, collecting and sending data from the battlespace to a manned fighter.

The indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract has a ceiling of $400 million. The program’s development work will be conducted at the company’s facility in Endicott, New York.